Wednesday

15th Jul 2020

Opinion

Revival of hope for EU-Israel ties after elections?

  • After 10 years, could it finally be goodbye to Benjamin Netanyahu? (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Last week's election results in Israel should lead to a major shift in Europe's relationship with the country, as well as its overall engagement in the Middle East.

While a new Israeli government has yet to be formed, and its composition may be unclear for a while, the results clearly show Benjamin Netanyahu on the way out of national premiership, after over a decade at the helm.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The implications cannot be overestimated, for Israel, its neighbours and allies.

The EU and its major stakeholders ought to make some quick yet significant revisions in their policies, if they seek to amount a genuine contribution to higher regional stability and play a more intense role in it.

In recent years, Europe-Israel ties have deteriorated dramatically and the EU position has weakened unprecedentedly.

A growing distance between Washington and Brussels, alongside controversial steps related to the nuclear agreement with Iran, and a freeze in the political process between Israel and the Palestinians, have all led to loss of trust and mutual respect among the top echelon of the mainstream political leadership in Jerusalem and Europe.

The EU has been too weak internally to achieve unanimity and exert effective pressure on Israel.

The Israeli government found it sufficient to rely on its American partner, with several other world powers, including Russia, India and Brazil, next in line.

Deep freeze

The bilateral annual Association Council meetings have not convened for eight years and intergovernmental consultations between Israel and Europe's major powers have been downgraded, suspended or stopped altogether.

A complete, albeit unofficial, halt on upgrading the relations has been in effect.

Now that Israel will either have a unity government, or a narrower coalition, led by former chief of staff Benny Gantz, new opportunities abound.

Both Gantz's Blue & White centrist party and Likud have many excellent people sincerely willing to partner with Europe, who have a fair understanding of the EU and its significance for Israel.

Most of the candidates to become ministers in a future Israeli government realise there is no substitute for Israel to the European partner, neither in Asia nor in South America.

A new government in Israel, together with responsible and pragmatic European leadership, can create fresh momentum, restore strategic dialogue and horizons, and cultivate a reinvigorated EU-Israel partnership, based on a new security paradigm and on mutual awareness to each side's interests, values and concerns.

A pragmatic European approach would include greater understanding of Israel's legitimate security concerns.

It should lead to a new realignment with Washington regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, which now seems more likely in light of Trump's own attempts to negotiate directly with Teheran.

Europe should also dilute expectations for a quick fix of the Palestinian crisis, mostly because it takes two to tango.

Additionally, Europe can help prevent escalation to war in northern Israel, while following the British annulation of the artificial distinction between Hezbollah's terrorist arm and its presumed political.

Generally speaking, the EU should avoid controversial and damaging rhetoric and actions that alienate those in the centre political map of Israel.

It can jumpstart the process of upgrading relations with Israel, irrespective of progress in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Restoring bilateral consultations, periodic Association Council meetings, and maintaining tighter coordination with Jerusalem, would help moderates in future Israeli governments advance true partnership across the Mediterranean.

This may also, indirectly, assist rehabilitating some of Israel's state institutions which have been under attack in recent years, such as the Supreme Court, the attorney general and the police.

The new Israeli government on its part, also has some immediate reparation to do.

Detaching the Netanyahu-era's alliance with Hungary's Viktor Orban and other illiberal regimes in Europe will serve both EU unity and Israel's integrity.

Scraping the deal reached with Poland to rewrite the history of Second World War and exonerate Polish citizens who committed war crimes, falls under the same category.

The Israel-Poland alliance can be built on healthier grounds.

Israel and Europe should guarantee the construction of a natural gas pipeline connecting Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

More broadly, Israel should do everything in its limited power to help keep Europe united and independent of Russia's grip, because, in the long run a divided Europe, drifting further away from the US is counter to Israeli interests.

Additionally, Israel must prepare the ground for a successful participation in Horizon Europe, the ambitious €100bn EU research and innovation program to succeed Horizon 2020.

Developing understanding and building alliances within the European Commission can help Israel avoid unpleasant surprises such as the one with Horizon 2020, when the commission demanded West Bank Israeli participants not partake in the program.

Commonalities between Europe and Israel span not only shared values, interests and weaknesses as liberal democracies, but include revived hope.

Author bio

Raanan Eliaz is an expert on EU-Israel relations. He created European Leadership Netowrk (ELNET) in 2007 and the Forum of Strategic Dialogue in 2012, both aimed at strengthening political ties between Europe and Israel.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Four tweets broke Facebook - good news for EU regulators

Facebook PR chief Nick Clegg tried to make us believe that it is comparable to a phone company. Nothing could be further from the truth. His company decides which messages users see. It literally "ranks" content.

Good news on the European Citizens' Initiative

Although slightly elaborate, the Citizens' Initiative is an important instrument to boost popular participation in the EU legislative process, as well as to engage citizens in the policy making process of the Union.

Italy has a responsibility, too

Little wonder the leaders of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden are unwilling to sign off: they're not going to give money so the Italians can fund a tax cut in the middle of an economic crisis.

News in Brief

  1. EU Commission loses case against Apple tax ruling
  2. EU drops environmental rules to speed Covid-19 vaccine
  3. MEPs close gap between lab and real car-emission tests
  4. Serbia and Montenegro off EU's safe travel list
  5. Saudi millions put Spanish royal family in spotlight
  6. EU says no state aid to tax-haven linked firms
  7. First elections in North Macedonia since name change
  8. Protests in Belarus after Lukashenko challengers barred

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Orban raises summit stakes with 'blackmail' conditions
  2. Antwerp's Uigher refugee from China: where's my family?
  3. UK bans Huawei from 5G network in major U-turn
  4. Four tweets broke Facebook - good news for EU regulators
  5. Good news on the European Citizens' Initiative
  6. EU prepares response to China over Hong Kong
  7. EU to keep corporate sponsorship of presidencies
  8. 'Passengers' became 'lenders' to airlines hit by pandemic

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us